WASHINGTON (BP)–Congress has voted with scant dissent to prohibit federal funding for assisted suicide.
In a 99-0 vote April 16, the Senate approved the Assisted Suicide Funding Restriction Act. Six days earlier, the House voted 398-16 in favor of the legislation.
The White House has indicated President Clinton will sign the bill.
The legislation bans the use of federal funds and facilities to promote, subsidize or provide assisted suicide or euthanasia.
“This is an important first step,” said Southern Baptist medical ethics specialist Ben Mitchell, “and it seems to acknowledge the linkage between assisted dying and economic considerations. In an era of increasing restrictions on access to health-care resources, economic factors can become a significant incentive to assisted death.
“While we believe we need stricter, more comprehensive legislation against assisted suicide, we applaud Congress for making efforts to turn back the assisted-suicide movement in this country,” said Mitchell, an ethics professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a consultant for the Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission.
Congressional action on physician-assisted suicide came as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to issue an opinion on the hotly debated issue. A decision should be announced by July.
In January, the high court heard arguments in two controversial decisions last year in federal appeals courts. In March, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California overturned a Washington state law, saying there is a “constitutionally protected liberty interest in determining the time and manner of one’s own death.” In April, a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court struck down New York’s law prohibiting physician assistance in a suicide, ruling there is no difference between the prescribing of drugs for a suicide than the withdrawal of artificial life support.
Supporters of the funding ban say the legislation is necessary whether the Supreme Court upholds the decisions or overturns them. A reversal will mean the issue returns to state legislatures. If a state legalizes euthanasia without the ban in place, a judge could rule funding of assisted suicide is required under such programs as Medicare and Medicaid and in such facilities as veterans’ and military hospitals, ban advocates say.